In 2014, the state of Ohio instituted the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
Created in 2012 by local state Senator Peggy Lehner, this program is designed to ensure that students who are underperforming in reading receive resources to help.
Students in public and public charter schools need to pass their third-grade reading proficiency test with a 77% before they are allowed to move to fourth-grade reading. Failing that test means they have to stay with third-grade reading but can be promoted to fourth-grade in other subjects. This effort came after a decade of stagnant test growth by fourth graders. While it may seem like this legislation was enacted to boost test scores, there are many more important reasons to push students to read well by third grade.
Many educators, and other experts in the field, recognize third grade as a critical time for students. This time in their education is when they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
In Ohio, many school districts end reading classes after the third grade, though some extend them to the fourth grade. Students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade are more than four times less likely to graduate from school. Poor students who cannot read at grade level by that time are thirteen times less likely to graduate, according to a 2011 study by the American Educational Research Association. These are some daunting numbers, but there is a silver lining. When schools invest in early education programs, they can drop those the number of students needing individual plans to catch up by thirty-two percent.
To help schools improve student scores, some of the state budget is earmarked to bring in resources to help. And help is needed. Many children who are in the lowest percentiles of learning have multiple challenges to overcome. Some of them are transient. They may start in one school district and end up in another one by the end of that year. This can make it a challenge to bring up test scores, as not every school has the same reading standards. Students may read at first and second-grade levels when they get to third grade, increasing the challenge for teachers. Children who live in houses with lower incomes have additional obstacles to overcome, as we have discussed in other articles.
In spite of all these challenges, there have been some encouraging results. In the first few years, schools have seen a 94% success rate in improving student reading scores. This has been a product of the extra focus on reading and the additional resources provided to underperforming school districts. The Ohio Department of Education has created a guide to help school districts understand the program as well as find ways to fund it. It is possible to spend Title I funds on outside resources that move students closer to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee goals. The early successes of this program are giving school districts using its optimism for the future of their students.